Friday, 8 July 2016

Love, Friendship, and Incoherence

Okay, so what's our role in this film again?

A few of my friends decided to go see a movie, and we put it to a vote to see which one. We tried to find what was playing and came up with a list of several films. We quickly ruled out Warcraft and a few others, and somehow we ended up settling on Love and Friendship. It was something of an odd choice seeing as there was a grand total of one person in the group who seemed interested in seeing it. At that point, I didn't know much else beyond the title. Apparently it's based on an unpublished Jane Austin novel from early in her career.

Of course, I didn't know that until it was explained to me, seeing as I know very little of Austin's writing. While it is admirable that a woman managed to run a fairly successful writing career during the Victorian Era, her work never seemed that interesting to me, most if not all of it being made up of tragic romances set against the backdrop of Victorian aristocracy. Of course, I'm not here to criticize an author I've never read. I'm here to look at one particular film adaptation. Unfortunately, while it does make an attempt at an unusual structure and to avoid coming off as a film made to win Oscars, there are a few things to be said regarding its narrative, as I will explain below.

Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is an American "exile" who delights in manipulating everyone around her. This being set in the regency, she has developed skills in discreetly controlling others in her life in order to gain power. She also has a daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark) who she is purportedly caring for even though she's really interested in exploiting her. One day, they are visited by a bumbling aristocrat named Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), a well-intentioned idiot who wants to marry Frederica. She is reluctant to become engaged so quickly, so Susan begins trying to bring them together and later marries him herself. Some stuff happens, a few questionable remarks related to women are shared, and an assortment of relationships are formed and destroyed.

That was the extent of the plot I managed to draw from Love and Friendship. This brings me to the largest problem with the film: it makes no sense. While I can't speak for the five or six other people we shared the theater with, I can say that this impression was shared among my friends. We had an interesting discussion while leaving the theater, in which we found that none of us could agree on what the actual story was. There are a lot of people to keep track of, and as the film went on, we generally got totally lost and had trouble telling who was who. In fact, it was hard even to keep track of which people any of us meant to refer to when trying to make sense of the film's incoherent narrative.

To make matters worse, the relationships among the large cast proved integral to the narrative. That seemed like a very bad sign when none of us could even figure out what the relations were between everyone. There are several romantic sub-plots and family-related stories, only it is impossible to keep track of who is engaged with who. There is an especially confusing sub-plot in which a teenager is upset because her husband is apparently having an affair, only I couldn't figure out who was supposed to be the husband (talking to my friends after, he apparently remained entirely off-screen). Then of course there are sudden changes in character that make the timeline of events especially confusing.

The movie also proved to be confusing in terms of what it was. It felt like it was generally trying to be a period piece, only there were the really strange comedic moments that seemed to go against this (particularly whenever the over-the-top Lord James enters). Some of the audience was laughing, and it seemed confusing whether the film was trying to be funny or serious. Was this supposed to be a drama or a comedy? Whatever it was, I would say the dramatic and funny moments don't go very well together, and as amusing as Lord James could get, his strange personality was really out of place in the otherwise grounded environment.

Love and Friendship is one you can avoid at the theater. It remains nothing more than an incoherent mess which is impossible to follow. Unless you want to be totally confused, or spend the time afterward with your friends trying hopelessly to figure out what the actual plot of the movie is, it's not worth your time. After watching this movie, I found I came out not even understanding what the actual narrative was supposed to be. In fact, while we tried desperately to explain the relationships between the film's large cast we found that no one seemed to know (one admitted to have "given up the story entirely") what actually happened.

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